What are the practical implications of this case?
The decision is an important reminder for local authorities of the very limited circumstances in which they can refuse to accept a repeat homelessness application. This decision of the Court of Appeal shows that the courts will take a very strict approach when determining whether a repeat application is truly based on precisely the same facts as a previous one.
Local government practitioners may be concerned that this will force them to accept a very substantial number of repeat applications and to dedicate precious resources to making statutory enquiries into repeat applications under section 184 of the Housing Act 1996.
Giving his judgment, Lord Justice Lewison highlighted for local authorities that where they are required to accept a repeat application, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so but then making relatively speedy enquiries. So long as the local authority’s enquiries are sufficient to decide what duty, if any, is owed to the applicant, there is no requirement that the enquiries be of a specific level of detail nor that they take a specific amount of time to conduct.
Therefore, where an applicant makes a repeat application which is not based on precisely the same facts but which nevertheless has little merit, the correct approach would be for the local authority to accept the application but then to conduct enquiries and determine the application on its merits relatively speedily.
One of the most interesting questions from this decision was left open by the Court of Appeal: whether a person can acquire a local connection in law simply by the passage of time between two homelessness applications, in particular where they remain in the authority’s district without a legal right to occupy their accommodation. Practitioners will wish to be alert to whether that question will fall to be decided in a future case.
What was the background?
On 26 March 2019, Mr Minott applied to the Council for homelessness assistance. The Council provided him with overnight accommodation in a hotel and from the following day, the Council provided him with accommodation at a residential address whilst they carried out enquiries into his application.
After carrying out enquiries, the Council notified Mr Minott that he had a local connection with a different local authority and that that other local authority had accepted a referral. The Council served a notice to quit on Mr Minott and began steps to evict him from the property provided to him. Mr Minott resisted those steps.
Mr Minott sought a statutory review of the decision to refer him to a different local authority. On 25 September 2019, the Council upheld the decision to refer Mr Minott to a different authority.
On 17 October 2019, Mr Minott made a fresh homelessness application to the Council, arguing that he now had a local connection with Cambridge because he had now been residing there for more than 6 months.
The Council refused to accept the new application on the basis that although 6 months of residence within a 12-month period was generally accepted to sufficient for a local connection to an area, Mr Minott’s residence in the Cambridge property did not count from the time that a notice to quit had expired and the Council had been trying to evict him.
Mr Minott unsuccessfully challenged the Council’s refusal in the High Court.
What did the court decide?
The Court of Appeal reiterated the position which has emerged from previous case law - R v Harrow LBC ex p Fahia  1 WLR 1396 and Rikha Begum v Tower Hamlets LBC  EWCA Civ 340,  1 WLR 2103 – that a local authority can only refuse to accept a second homelessness application if it is based on exactly the same facts as the earlier application (and therefore falls to be treated as being no application at all)
The Court of Appeal stressed that a local authority presented with a repeat homelessness application must therefore ask itself two questions in order. In other words, there is a a two-stage process:
(i) Stage one: asking whether the new application is an application at all (which it will be unless based on exactly the same facts as the previous one, disregarding fanciful and trivial new facts);
(ii) Stage two: if the new application is an application, asking is it well-founded? This second stage will require the local authority to carry out enquiries under section 184 of the Housing Act 1996.
The Court of Appeal held that the Council had erred in conflating the two stages.
The Council had decided that the mere passage of time between the first and second applications was insufficient to require the Council to accept a new application because the Council considered that Mr Minott’s time living in the Cambridge property did not count from the time that the Council began to try to evict him.
However, the Court held that that was a matter to be weighed in stage two of the process. It was not a reason to refuse to accept the new application. The Court held that the new application should have been accepted because it passed stage one: there was a new fact which was not fanciful or trivial since Mr Minott had passed the 6-month threshold generally used by local authorities to demonstrate a local connection.
This analysis was first published on Lexis®PSL.